Are All Calories Created Equal?

Many people believe that all calories are created equal, whether they come from protein, carbohydrates, or fat. But is this really the case? According to some recent research, it's not quite that simple. One study in particular suggests that the body processes different types of calories in different ways, which affects your ability to lose weight and keep it off.

Taking a Look at Calories

What is a calorie? Are all calories equal? So many questions surround the simple little calorie.
 
Why do we care? Because when those single calories start adding up, so can the extra pounds. The number of calories you consume and use up during the day is directly related to that number you see on your scale. So let's dive into this minuscule source of energy and take a look at why it can build up into a source of some big questions.
 
In its most basic definition, a calorie is a way to measure energy, specifically heat. Although there are various precise definitions that are used for different purposes (physical chemistry measurements, engineering steam tables, and thermochemistry), in all cases, the calorie is about 4.2 joules, or the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C (1.8°F) at normal atmospheric pressure.
 
In labeling food products, a food calorie refers to a kilocalorie, or 1,000 calories. So 1 kilocalorie (1 food calorie) is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram (1 liter) of water by 1°C. The kilocalorie is a measure of the amount of heat energy (or metabolic energy) contained in the chemical bonds of foods.
 
In general, a person needs about 2,000 kilocalories (2,000 food calories) a day to meet his or her energy needs. Any calories consumed in excess of a person's energy needs are converted into fat and stored in the body. A pound of body fat is equal to 3,500 calories. So if you eat 100 calories more than you expend every day, you will gain more than 10 pounds in a year.
 
So does this mean that the calories in a piece of chocolate are the same as the exact same number of calories in an apple?
 
While there's not much debate about the basic definition of a calorie, there is much controversy over whether all sources of calories are the same for maintaining body weight. This debate looks at whether a calorie is a calorie, regardless of the amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in a person's diet. The answer is not quite clear, largely because it is difficult to measure calories when they are consumed by the human body.
 
In the laboratory, a calorimeter can be used for calculating the heat of combustion of a substance, including calories. However, the human body is not as straightforward as a calorimeter, as it doesn't digest all food components. Therefore, some calories are lost in waste and it is difficult to accurately account for such losses.
 
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